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Friday, 15 December 2017

Retro Review: Jungle Fever (1991)

Jungle Fever
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Samuel L. Jackson, John Turturro, Anthony Quinn, Tim Robbins, Halle Berry
Genre: Romantic Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $43 million

Plot: Friends and family of a married Black architect react in different ways to his affair with an Italian secretary  

'I Got No Jungle Fever, Got No Jungle Fever'

Spike Lee's thematic take on race and ethnicity, Jungle Fever was released two years after the enormous success of Do The Right Thing, which I loved dearly and it has become one of my favourite movies, ever. Jungle Fever treads on the same waters as the former: the only differences being it is approached in the 1990s sense, it is much more cynical and darker and the subject of sex and relationships are also thrown into the mix. 

When I read the plot for Jungle Fever and saw the poster for it, my impressions were this would be a film about sex, love, relationships and interracial love. Well, come to think it, it turns out it is not just about that, it's also about family. It's not just about the main relationship, it's also everyone's reaction to it that sees Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra's characters ostracised by their friends and loved ones. 

Jungle Fever feels muddled and cluttered and not quite sure of what it wants to say; it jumps from one storyline and a set of characters to another and it is just too long. It's as if Spike Lee had 5 different films and shoved them into one film. He crams in too much that it becomes so muddled, it dilutes the final product. But for Malcolm X, by the time the Hughes brothers and John Singleton came along, Lee's 1990s output lacked the street credibility, uniqueness and freshness that embodied Do The Right Thing. The characters played by Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra, but for the Italian characters, are not very redeemable and they were not well-written and developed. Snipes's performance lacks the emotional heart and warmth that he just can't seem to generate. Their relationship comes across as cynical, not to mention also it lacks genuine spark. Sciorra had no chemistry with Robin Williams in the tepid What Dreams May Come, and neither did she have any with Snipes with Jungle Fever. The late Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee play the role reversal of their characters from Do The Right Thing, with Ossie as the moody type and Ruby as the nice old woman. I was also annoyed that the same old cops, the racist white cops from Do The Right Thing reappeared and reenacted the same roles as before. But it was nice to see John Turturro play the nice guy this time around as Paulie and I liked his story arc more than the others. 

& unlike Do The Right Thing, this one approaches the subject matter of race and ethnicity with little of the subtlety, not so much intelligence and almost none of its heart. Rather it is shoved in your face and it never takes the time to address itself thoroughly and is abrasive. & almost all of the characters, but for Paulie & the old lady, are just shallow and awful. It's disappointing actually. I thought it started off well but an hour into it, its message is mixed: it's racist to see a Black person dating and falling for a person outside their race, but it also means that dating someone outside of your own race that you don't let a person's colour of their skin affect the person you love and that love does conquer all. It's confusing.  

The film features appearances and turns by Samuel L. Jackson, Halle Berry as two crack-headed junkies, Queen Latifah as a waitress, whilst the scene with the racist father abusing the daughter is tough to watch and just horrible. It has some watchable scenes, but other than that, this is a tad too long and it's a slapdash of an effort by Lee. Add to that the last 5 mins, those were the worst last 5 mins I have seen in a film for quite some time. 

Dubbed the Spike Lee not-so anti- White people movie, I got no jungle fever whilst sitting through this movie. 

This was, as one Letterboxd member dubbed, miserly porn. 

Final Verdict

Do The Right Thing still reigns as Spike Lee's best effort in my eyes, whilst Jungle Fever doesn't manage to leave a lasting and impacting impression. It can be seen as a companion piece to the former, but it lacks the sharpness, the engrossing narrative and wider depth that Do The Right Thing encompasses and the lengths it goes to into making a social commentary on race relations. Although I'd take this over School Daze. 

Jungle Fever is a sluggishly uneven scattershot of race in the context of love and sex that after some real promise, turns out to be utterly frayed and contentious. 

Do The Right Thing was fantastic and embodied a feel-good factor - sadly Jungle Fever is the exact opposite: this wasn't fantastic and that it felt to me to be too mean-spirited and chaotic for its own good. 


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